COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (March 9, 2016) – How do you defeat a familiar foe?
The U.S. Women’s Sitting Team hopes to answer that question next week when it travels to Anji, China for the World ParaVolley Intercontinental Cup where it will face China, its rival and the No. 1 ranked team in the world.
Since 2012, China and the U.S. Women’s Sitting Team have faced each other 14 times in international competitions and friendly matches; China holds a 10-4 overall advantage. But since 2013, the U.S. is 4-5 against the Asian side.
U.S. outside hitter Katie Holloway is confident her team will begin to even the record at next week’s tournament, noting that the U.S. nearly toppled the Chinese in five sets at the 2014 ParaVolley Sitting Volleyball World Championship.
“Each year we’ve gotten better and better (against them),” she said. “We haven’t seen a lot of growth (from them); they’re just consistently good. We have to get better, but it’s about what we do on our side of the net, like limiting errors.”
Held every four years in the same year as the Paralympic Games, the Intercontinental Cup is a Paralympic-qualifying event for both men’s and women’s sitting teams from around the world. This year, 28 teams are participating, 13 of which have already punched their ticket to Rio de Janeiro, including both the U.S. Men’s and Women’s Sitting Teams.
The U.S. Women’s Sitting Team qualified by finishing second at the 2014 ParaVolley Sitting Volleyball World Championship, while the Men’s U.S. Sitting Team qualified for the first time in more than 10 years when it took silver at the 2015 Parapan American Games.
While they’ve already qualified, both teams are hungry for success; final standings at the Intercontinental Cup will impact the seeding at the Paralympics. Currently, the Women’s Sitting Team is ranked No. 2 in the Paralympic standings, while the men sit in seventh place. To maintain their No. 2 ranking, the Women’s Sitting Team will have to win at least the silver medal.
The men will try to move up the ranks without the assistance of outside hitter and 2015 U.S. Men’s Sitting Team Player of the Year J. Dee Marinko, who will be absent due to personal obligations. However, Men’s Sitting Team Captain Eric Duda said Team USA has been training hard to balance the roster in Marinko’s absence.
“Right now we’re focused on getting back to the basics,” Duda said. “I don’t want to say too much, but if we can eliminate a couple of errors, we’re able to hang with every country in the world right now.”
During the team’s most recent training block at its headquarters at the University of Central Oklahoma in Edmond, the Men’s Sitting Team focused on ball control and smart attacking, said Duda and his teammate Josh Smith.
“We’ve been focused on making sure that when we have contact with the ball we’re putting it where we want to put it,” Smith added. “We don’t want to force our teammates to work harder and play out of system.”
Meanwhile, the Women’s Sitting Team will debut a new offense months in the making. Head Coach Bill Hamiter said the new system has raised expectations.
“We feel like we should medal, and be able to come back afterward and look at what we’ve done to evaluate what we need to do in the next five months,” Hamiter said.
“We didn’t run our new offense when China came (in October), and I asked (Bill) right before camp was over if we’d be holding back,” U.S. player Nicky Nieves said. “He said, ‘No, we’re going to play,’ and I got so excited when he said that.”
Regardless, both teams know they can’t afford to overlook any country if they hope to medal. Of the qualified teams, only Bosnia-Herzegovina, currently ranked No. 1 on the men’s side, will be absent, creating fierce competition for a medal.
“Rio is the main goal, but these other tournaments are so important,” Bethany Zummo said. “We’re going to have a lot of competition (at the Intercontinental) and we have a newer team overall. This is a great chance for them to experience international play because the more tournaments we have together, the more confident we are.”
U.S. Women’s Sitting Team Roster for the Intercontinental Cup (March 17-23)
# – Name (Position, Hometown, Height)
1 – Lora Webster (MB, Phoneix, Ariz., 5-11)
2 – Bethany Zummo (L, Dublin, Calif., 5-2)
3 – Alexis Shifflet (S, Waseca, Minn., 5-4)
4 – Michelle Schiffler (MB, Lake Wales, Fla., 6-0)
5 – Katie Holloway (OH, Lake Stevens, Wash., 6-3)
6 – Heather Erickson (OH, Fayetteville, N.C., 5-11)
7 – Monique Burkland (MB, Ardmore, Okla., 5-9)
10 – Kari Miller (OPP/DS, Washington D.C., 5-6)
13 – Nichole Millage (OH, Champaign, Ill., 5-7)
14 – Kaleo Kanahele (S, Edmond, Okla., 5-6)
16 – Nicky Nieves (OH, Kissimmee, Fla., 5-10)
17 – Tia Edwards (OH/MB, Skiatook, Okla., 5-7)
Head Coach: Bill Hamiter
Assistant Coach: Cara Lang
Assistant Coach: Lazaro Beltran
Team Manager: Dr. Laura Finch
Athletic Trainer: Patrick Lawrence
U.S. Intercontinental Cup Women’s Sitting Team Schedule (times listed as Chinese Standard Time)
March 17: USA vs. Rwanda, 9 a.m.
March 18: USA vs. China, 9 a.m.; USA vs. Iran, 2:30 p.m.
March 19: USA vs. Ukraine, 10:30 a.m.
March 20: USA vs. Canada, 5:30 p.m.
March 21: USA vs. Brazil, 12 p.m.
U.S. Men’s Sitting Volleyball Team Roster for the Intercontinental Cup (March 17-23)
1 – Travis Ricks (DS, San Diego, Calif., 5-7)
2 – Daniel Regan (MB, St. Louis, Mo., 6-0)
3 – Sam Surowiec (OH, Kirkland, Wash., 6-2)
4 – Ben Aman (OH, Tacoma, Wash., 6-5)
5 – Eric Duda (OH, Fort Lauderdale, Fla., 6-5)
8 – James Stuck (S, New Kensington, Pa., 6-5)
9 – Hugo Storer (L, Greensboro, N.C., 6-0)
11 – Roderick Green (MB, West Monroe, La., 6-3)
13 – Charlie Swearingen (MB, Gulfport, Miss., 6-3)
14 – John Kremer (L, Buford, Ga., 5-9)
15 – Chris Seilkop (OH, DeLand, Fla., 6-6)
16 – Josh Smith (MB/OPP, Riverside, Cali., 6-2)
Head Coach: Greg Walker
Assistant Coach: Joe Skinner
Assistant Coach: Mike Hobson
Team Manager: Dixie Collins
Athletic Trainer: Katherine King
U.S. Intercontinental Cup Men’s Sitting Team Schedule (times listed as Chinese Standard Time)
March 17: USA vs. China, 12 p.m.
March 18: USA vs. Germany, 12 p.m.
March 19: USA vs. Iran, 9 a.m.
March 20: USA vs. Egypt, 2:30 p.m.
March 21: USA vs. Brazil, 9 a.m.